It’s a common belief that in order to obtain a divorce in New Jersey, one spouse must first “file for divorce.” There appears to very information available, however, as to what “filing for divorce” means and what it involves.
Generally, the filing of the divorce complaint with the court establishes the “cut-off date” of the marriage. In general, the “cutoff date” is the date that the marriage is considered by a court to have officially ended. Therefore, all assets that were acquired from the date of marriage through the filing of the date of complaint, or other agreed-upon cut off date, would be included within the pot of marital assets. Similarly, all such assets are generally valued as of the filing of the date of complaint.
In order to obtain a Judgment of Divorce from a New Jersey court, one spouse is required to file a Complaint for Divorce, along with other required documents, with the court.
Even though it’s very common for the divorce complaint to be based on the grounds of “irreconcilable differences,” the mere filing and receipt by the non-filing spouse of a divorce complaint is enough to raise the level of acrimony immediately, making it difficult for effective negotiations.
In order to avoid such a result, and what most people don’t know, is that all issues, including child custody, parenting time, child support, payment of college expenses, alimony, and/or division of marital assets and debts can be negotiated and resolved in the Marital Settlement Agreement before any Complaint for Divorce is even filed with the Court.
The divorce complaint can thereafter be filed with the court essentially as a technicality to obtain the Judgment of Divorce from the court. The spouses would simply appear in court for what’s referred to as the uncontested hearing, which takes only about 15 or 20 minutes.
Alternatively, one spouse may choose to forego responding to the divorce complaint and appearance in court. In such instance, the spouse who files the divorce complaint can obtain the divorce judgment by “default.” The non-appearing spouse would simply waive the 35-day period to file an answer with the court. The spouse filing the complaint simply informs the court that a Marital Settlement Agreement has been signed by both parties and asks the court to schedule a default hearing. The non-filing spouse need not appear in court, although additional forms are required by the court.
In the following circumstances, however, you might consider filing the divorce complaint sooner rather than later, such as where:
- Your spouse has a substance abuse or other addiction, especially where you have younger children;
- You have a potential alimony obligation and generally, the longer the delay before filing the divorce complaint, the longer the duration of marriage, potentially extending any alimony obligation;
- You are concerned that your spouse is or will incur debt that is likely to be attributed during the marriage; or
- You believe that your spouse is likely to experience a significant reduction in income or assets, such as where business income has been on the decline, or you believe that your assets or income are likely to increase in the short-term.
Therefore, it’s best to educate yourself on which strategy is best for your particular circumstances. When it comes to divorce, there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach. Each situation is unique and requires a customized strategy for the most successful outcome.
Please feel free to contact us to receive free information about the divorce process in New Jersey or if you would like to schedule a consultation to learn the most productive yet cost-effective customized strategy for you.